Fact Check

Is This a Mugshot of Bill Gates After Arrest for Traffic Violations?

The founder of Microsoft had a few minor run-ins with the law.

Published Apr 18, 2022

 (Albuquerque, New Mexico Police Department/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Albuquerque, New Mexico Police Department/Wikimedia Commons
Claim:
A mugshot authentically shows a young Bill Gates after he was arrested in 1977 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for running a stop sign and driving without a license.

Fact Check

Bill Gates, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, had a few run-ins with the law in his younger days, including one that led to an infamous mugshot that continues to haunt the internet today. 

The above mugshot shows a young Gates in police custody in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The caption claims, semi-accurately, that he was arrested for jumping a red light and driving without a license. (According to the Albuquerque police, he failed to stop at a stop sign.)

Gates himself addressed the arrest that led to that mugshot in an interview with Time Magazine in 2007:

There's a great photo of Bill Gates from 1977, the year he would have graduated from Harvard if he hadn't dropped out. He was 22 at the time and looks all of 16. He's got a flowered collar, tinted glasses and feathered blond hair, and he looks so happy, you'd swear he knew what the rest of his life was going to be like. He also has a sign around his neck: it's a mug shot. "I was out driving Paul [Allen]'s car," Gates says, flashing that same smile 30 years later. "They pulled me over, and I didn't have my license, and they put me in with all the drunks all night long. And that's why the rest of my life, I've always tried to have a fair amount of cash with me. I like the idea of being able to bail myself out."

While Time says he was 22, articles from 1998 put his age as 21 at the time of his arrest. According to a 1998 Associated Press story, the same mugshot was featured on the cover of Brill’s Content magazine as part of a story about Microsoft’s public relations machine. According to the AP article (which cites the Albuquerque police), the 1977 arrest was for running a stop sign and driving without a license. Gates had also been arrested in 1975 for speeding and driving without a license.

Gates himself reportedly first saw the photograph when representatives of the city of Albuquerque asked him if they could release it to Brill’s Content. He also showed it at a May 1998 speech, which many said was a preemptive attempt at damage control. 

Given that Gates himself and The Associated Press both addressed the circumstances of the arrest, we rate this claim as “True.”


 

Sources:

“Clipped From The Times Recorder.” The Times Recorder, 15 Aug. 1998, p. 6. newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/99976411/the-times-recorder/. Accessed 18 Apr. 2022.

Gammon, Katharine. “What We’ll Miss About Bill Gates — a Very Long Good-Bye.” Wired. www.wired.com, https://www.wired.com/2008/05/st-billgates/. Accessed 18 Apr. 2022.

Grossman, Lev. “Bill Gates Goes Back to School.” Time, June 2007. content.time.com, https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,1630564-1,00.html. Accessed 18 Apr. 2022.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.

Article Tags

Become
a Member

Your membership is the foundation of our sustainability and resilience.

Perks

Ad-Free Browsing on Snopes.com
Members-Only Newsletter
Cancel Anytime
default